"Keep your imagination active": an interview with the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Innovation in Theatre winners

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Robin Malan and Andi Mgibantaka of Junkets Publisher were recognised for their invaluable contribution to theatre, arts, literature and education. They talk to Naomi Meyer and Cliffordene Norton  about the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Innovation in Theatre recently awarded to them.

Robin Malan and Andi Mgibantaka at the Zabalaza 2020 award ceremony

Junkets has published the following imprints:

  • The Playscript Series, which includes new South African plays to give especially young playwrights working in small informal theatre venues recognition and encouragement through exposure in print;
  • The Junkets10 Series, which are new plays to celebrate 10 years of publishing;
  • The BaxterJunkets Series, which is an ongoing collaboration with the Baxter Theatre and includes the publication of the winning scripts of the annual Zabalaza Theatre Festival;
  • The Collected Series, which comprises anthologies of South African plays – some specifically for educational purposes – and allows for the creation of a valuable library of our dramatic heritage;
  • LGBTIQ-Junkets, which includes titles of diversity and sexual minorities and playscripts marked with a pink triangle; and
  • Other, which includes novels and collections, JunketsCrafts, monologues, handbooks and publications in association with other publishers.

Robin and Andisiwe, congratulations on the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award! What was your reaction when you heard you’d won?

Robin and Andi: Really pleased. Glad for the recognition.

Could both of you please elaborate on your work and on the highlights, as well as the difficulties, of working in theatre throughout your careers?

Robin: You’re asking a difficult question: I have worked as an actor, a director, an artistic director of a theatre-in-education company, a teacher and now a publisher. So, which “work” over my whole “career”?

My work at the moment inside Junkets Publisher pre- and post-lockdown has been and will be to see as much non-mainstream theatre as I can; to identify those plays, mainly by young and emerging playwrights, that I think need to be preserved in print; to engage with the playwrights; and to find the funding to publish them.

Andi: My work is the financial side of the business and all the admin work involved in being a small independent publisher.

Robin: Highlight over my whole career? I would have to say: the entire seven years I spent as artistic director of the PACT Playwork theatre-in-education company, 1972–8.

Andi: Highlight for me was being made the sole proprietor and CEO of Junkets – having Robin hand over the “staff of office” to me.

Robin & Andi: We don’t actually work in the theatre, so we have not encountered any difficulties.

What was an early experience where you learned that the arts have power?

Robin: I have no idea how to answer this question. Do I say: when I carried a (very light) load on my back as Christian in Pilgrim’s progress at Sunday school at the age of five or six? I could feel how sorry people were for me and how pleased they were for me when the load was lifted. That’s power.

Andi: Having a poem of mine published in English alive when I was in standard nine. I found I had a voice that people listened to. That’s power.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated play?

Robin: Wide-open question. Shakespeare’s Measure for measure? Neil Coppen’s NewFoundLand (only because it has not been seen enough, eg it hasn’t been to Cape Town yet)? Phillip M Dikotla’s Skierlik (though it did win the Olive Schreiner Prize)?

Talking about creating your opportunities despite life’s difficulties: what is your advice to artists in the time of COVID-19?

Robin: Try to find ways to keep exercising your talent and honing your skills: engage in dialogues with other artists; take a duologue and Zoom it with another actor; join the Facebook Shakespeare soliloquy group and learn and perform a favourite soliloquy online; plan a season for a small theatre venue for the first six months after lockdown …

Robin and Andi: Keep your head and – more importantly – your imagination active.

Andi: Stay sensible and stay safe.

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